Q&A: Political scientist David Smith

David Smith (Samantha Fernandes / Ryersonian Staff)

David Smith (Samantha Fernandes / Ryersonian Staff)

For an extended version of the interview below, click here

Renowned Canadian political scientist David E. Smith has joined Ryerson as a distinguished visiting professor with the Faculty of Arts’ department of politics and public administration for a one-year term. Smith, who has an honorary doctorate from Ryerson, is professor emeritus in political studies at the University of Saskatchewan and senior policy fellow at the Johnson-Shoyama graduate school of public policy at the University of Regina.

Smith has received numerous awards for his books on Canadian government, politics and public policy including the Canadian Political Science Association’s award in 2000 for best book in Canadian government and politics for The Republican Option in Canada: Past and Present.

In his newest book, Across the Aisle: Opposition in Canadian Politics, Smith explores how opposition parties have influenced Canadian politics.

The Ryersonian’s Samantha Fernandes sat down with Smith to discuss his newest book and the current state of Canada’s opposition.

Samantha Fernandes: In terms of your new book, obviously the over-arching question of the book is ‘Has Canada developed a tradition of parliamentary opposition?’ Why did you ask that question to begin with?

David E. Smith: Well, I’ve written several other books and one about six years ago called The People’s House of Commons, and I suppose in working on that, I became more and more aware how little material there was on opposition. I was well on to writing the book when the 2011 election occurred, which ended up with the NDP forming the official opposition. It was something that had not been anticipated, I would think, up to almost three days before the election. It underlined the kind of unpredictability in the opposition.

SF: You contend Canada doesn’t have a strong opposition. Is this a problem?

DS: I think it is a problem because you depend in a parliamentary system on opposition, in particular, to criticize. You depend on it through its criticisms and debates in the House, which are then reported through the media to inform the public about issues. Now that sounds too, maybe, esoteric and theoretical, but I think it is fundamentally the case. If you don’t have the opposition doing that, if for some reason it’s unable to that, then government, I think, suffers in several ways.

SF: Do you see the status of Canada’s opposition changing anytime soon? How could it be improved?

DS: The book isn’t meant to particularly attack the present government, but one feature of the present government is the kind of language it uses. It sees itself as being elected, and to be quite precise, it wasn’t elected. Governments are not elected in Canada — parliaments are elected and governments arise out of parliament. Some might say, ‘What difference does that make?’  I think it makes a difference. It may be that the parliamentary system needs to be reformed to allow more opportunity for criticism, not just of the institutional opposition, but also more public criticism coming in and affecting policy.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on September 11, 2013.


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